Many Chinese manufacturers will pass through Atlanta this week en route to the city of Dothan, Ala., convening at a forum held in what may seem like an unlikely location. 

The U.S.-China Manufacturing Forum expects to draw more than 300 attendees March 26-28, with multiple delegations arriving from various parts of China. 

The event in eastern Alabama comes as Georgia’s neighboring states intensify their efforts to attract investment from Chinese firms with growing appetites for outbound investment. 

It’s not just that China’s central government is urging them to look abroad for cachet and expertise. A confluence of macroeconomic factors, including rising wages in China and cheaper land, logistics and energy in the U.S. are boosting the business case for setting up shop here. 

Georgia has had a few wins over the past five years, most notably Sany America, which has invested $60 million in its heavy-equipment plant in Peachtree City. After fits, starts, acquisitions and executive shuffles, the company announced that it turned a profit in the U.S. last year.

The state also recently revamped its recruitment strategy in China, opening a new office in Qingdao and naming a new representative to handle its recruitment efforts. 

But recently, as one Chinese company was putting the brakes on a plan to put a multimillion-dollar factory near Savannah, Ga., across the river South Carolina was announcing two new factories worth nearly $263 million and 800-plus jobs combined, both in textiles.  

Alabama has had only one major Chinese project: Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group Inc., which is setting up a $100 million factory near the small town of Thomasville, population: 5,000. The company has said it will create 500 jobs at full strength. 

Its decision had a lot to do with Southern hospitality, said George Harris of SoZo Group, a consultancy that helps Chinese firms enter the U.S. market and is organizing the upcoming forum. 

When Golden Dragon executives visited, community volunteers made cookies with “welcome” written in Chinese, and the company chairman was won over in part by what’s now called Thomasville’s “$100 million banana pudding,” Mr. Harris told Global Atlanta.  

Mr. Harris and SoZo Group founder Raymond Cheng, who formerly worked with HP and Apple, saw a need to help Chinese companies, who often are unaware of the South’s advantages for foreign firms, especially manufacturers. 

Not only are there ample land, skilled workers and tax breaks offered by aggressive state governments, but the region’s economic developers have considerable relational finesse after dealing with so many foreign investors. 

The Southern Governors Association, a group of governors from 16 states in the “American South,” has been marketing the region’s advantages to Chinese investors under a unified banner since 2010. The idea is to first boost general awareness and build relationships, then compete for specific projects. 

Indeed, representatives from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are slated to speak at the Alabama forum, along with mayors of smaller towns near Dothan. 

Local governments are also playing an increasing role in setting their areas apart. Of the more than 40 communities around the region sending representatives to the forum, only three are from Georgia: Cairo, Colquitt and Donalsonville.

Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz has been to China four times, most recently on a two-week jaunt with the SoZo Group in February to invite companies to the March 26-28 forum. 

“I’m excited,” Mr. Schmitz said in a recent SoZo news release. “Because of our number of trips over there, the people who are coming are extraordinary. We have who we believe are serious prospects for the U.S.” 

The party secretary from the northeastern city of Dalian’s Xigang district, Wu Jihua, is slated to bring a delegation of companies. Companies are also slated to attend from the Shunde district of Foshan, a city in China’s Pearl River Delta manufacturing region near Hong Kong

Speakers from government and academia are to include Ronnie Chan, co-chair of the Asia Society, He Ning, commercial affairs minister at the Chinese Embassy and Francisco Sanchez, former undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, among others. 

Chinese executives slated to speak include Juliana Lam, managing director of Hong Kong-based glove manufacturer AML Group; Ning Jian, general manager of Nanjing Zijin-Lead Electronics, which is looking to put a 3D printing operation in Dothan; Hing Chao of Earthpulse and others. 

Click here for more information about the forum or here for the full flyer. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...